I have been given exactly what I wanted… days with nothing to do. I have bookshelves filled to overflowing with various books. They are in no particular order (philosophy is in that general direction, poetry is over there… except for Graves, who’s over there with introspective writing with Thoreau, who is nearby environmental writings…). And on top of this I keep raiding the shelves for whatever moves me at the time. I rarely read one book only from start to finish. Instead I read dozens at a time, my currently reading list is theoretically every book I own. I try to pair it down, add some focus. So, here it is that I’ve fond myself having to burn up some leave before my orders end next month. I’ve got days off with nowhere to go and a stack of books that are in my wheelhouse right now (I’m writing a book on veteran reintegration that isn’t filled with pity and victim ideology and is heavy on virtue and warrior ethos).
Still, I’ve worked through some readings and have had to stop while my brain assimilated the material. Deep stuff must be pondered and let to sit. However more often than not I found myself in a weird state. Hours will go by and I will have made little to no progress in anything. Before me stretched twelve days of open freedom, and in the blink of a moving glacier, four had gone by. I had wanted to do a week of drop in workouts, run many miles, hike in the Cascades, cook great food, go to a nerd pub and play MTG and more. Save for a friend that came over and kicked my ass in Forza Racing 6 and watch a movie, I’ve not done anything. I was watching my vacation of opportunity slip through my hands, and yet where was my power? My motivation? Yesterday I was finishing up a really good book, King Warrior Magician Lover, and it all had hit home pretty well. I saw that I in my past relationship I had entered into it in one of the best states I’ve been in for years, a mature, empowered, masculinity. And yet somewhere complexes within me were activated. I could look back and see that I had fully moved into the bipolar ends of the warrior in that relationship. When I got to the Lover archetype I read this:
I was depressed. Everything was in a fog. I couldn’t connect with people. I was isolating again. I even turned off Facebook for a few days. I only turned it back on because it is my login for a few apps I use. Also, it (and this) is sometimes my last resort before complete isolation from the world. If it weren’t for LiveJournal in the past, I’m not sure where I’d be.
Sometimes when I read I get the urge to go walking, it has an energizing effect on me. But there is a stack of books here! But when it is things that I’m piecing together, I’ve got to move. I was going to go to the Peavey Arboretum and hike, but I also never go hiking without carrying some books. Which books? I can’t easily carry everything I want to read. I picked up a few and flipped through them to see which matched my mood. This book seemed to jump out at me; Jung and Tarot. I flipped through it and found myself reading The Hanged Man and the words leapt out at me.
A few days earlier I had bought Complex Archetype and Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung and read this:
It was a short hike, only 1.5 miles, yet it took me over two hours to do. I would stop often, sip some coffee, listen to the sounds around me, look at gall eggs on oak trees, smell the dried lichen in the air, and try to slow down. Many times I would simply stop in the middle of the path and lean against my walking stick for several minutes at time. More than one hiker/jogger came around the bend in the trail and was startled by me standing still in the path.
It was a chilly day in August, 69 degrees. I wore two shirts and a long sleeve. I had grown accustomed to physical exercise in 100+ degree weather. I was chilly. I noticed there were no bird activity. Looking around I could see various stages of life/death in the forest. I recalled past forest ecology classes and looked to see the processes around me. I used my knife to investigate some decaying bark, lichen, gall eggs, and more. So many life processes were a result of a necessary change. Life just is. I doesn’t know anything else but growing. Growing responds to in spite of. Just as death responds to life. They are inseparable. Growth resulted from a need to grow. Without that need there is only stasis, only stagnancy, only paralysis. Growth occurs in struggle. This, of course, reminded me of Ginnungagap, the void between the two extremes of Niflheim and Muspelheim. What would we be without this struggle within us? To recall Moore’s writing, a man without purpose is dead.
I recalled some Camus that I had read. I dig the existentialist philosophers and find a lot of strength in them. Camus talks about Sisyphus’ punishment where there is no hope. For some existentialists, hope can be a bad thing. This was not an easy concept for me to get at first. I had came upon a phrase while studying Latin at the University of Houston years before, spem semper habemus, ‘we always have hope’ and it was something that I kept in my heart ever since. When life got hard, I recalled this statement. However, while it may (or may not) be true that whatever is occurring now will pass, there is no law stating that is must. The point that many existentialists make is that in the bigger picture, the universe is fine without you. People die, horribly so, injustice is everywhere, pain happens. The only way to face this bleakness without wanting to jump off a bridge, is to take it for what it is, face on, and enjoy the struggle. This is known to many in the military as we espouse to Embrace the Suck. It is a mindset that I fell in love with doing CrossFit and something that was lacking much as of late.
The forest was quiet. My mind was not. My thoughts bounced around like a squirrels in a tree. I could feel movement underneath my conscious, but didn’t know what. I sat and read from a book, Tarot Shadow Work, but it didn’t push the envelope. I already knew what it had to tell me. So I put it back into my bag and drew out a deck. Just as I was trying to formulate my question/concern, four early teenagers came walking by, filled with careless energy. At first they were charming in their youth, until they passed a mere ten meters beyond me and stopped to drink water. Being very young teenagers they couldn’t simply drink water. The girls and boys had to make a big show of the water, the flavor, how to work the straw, is that poison oak nearby, and more. Calm reverie was ended, my thoughts were flooded with irritation until they continued on their way. I put my deck up and continued walking as well in the opposite direction.
I came to a small bridge. When I was undergoing weekly therapy after my deployment to Iraq I had told my therapist that when on hikes I had started pausing at footbridges. I didn’t understand what was going on, only that whenever I crossed them I felt an obligation to pause. Now, again, I paused at the footbridge. Nothing was said, nothing specifically thought, before I continued on to the other side. But I was then compelled to turn around and stand in the center of the bridge. I wondered at what the motivation was, but was unable to pin it down. So I stood there on the bridge and just watched the forest around me. A few minutes later a little red squirrel discovered me and made a half dozen attempts to get close to me before scurrying off each time and bark at me. I remained still, delighting in squirrel. After a while it was done with me, returned to its foraging activities, and moved on. I was reminded of Ratatoskr from Norse mythology that ran up and down Yggdrasil, the ash world tree. In being still and watching the squirrel I had ceased to pay attention to anything else. The squirrel was delightful and all, got really close to me a few times, and I liked looking at its coloration and fur, and it served as a distraction. I wondered on the squirrels of the mind. Ratatoskr isn’t necessarily good or bad, it just is. Likewise, some of the thoughts running up and down my mind are good and some are bad. And sometimes I get caught up in one of them. I continued on my walk.
I am an amateur bird watcher. My favorites are owls and raptors. But my absolute favorite birds, of any bird, has always been ravens and crows. They fill my memories back to my childhood. Odin had two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, which most translate as Thought and Memory but one writer makes a case that it means Thought and Desire. Reading about them it seems to make more sense as memory, though the case is strong for desire. I wonder, however, if could be a case of lost in translation, if perhaps Nostalgia were better, that is… a feeling imbued memory. In any case, as I was walking, a raven flew overhead and settled into a tree high above me. I could not see it. It only gave out a few calls before becoming quiet. I delighted, as always, in a raven sighting, and stood still in the path yet again. Once more I took note of the things around me, the smells, the sounds, my pulse, etc… After a few minutes I heard the raven give a call that I’d never heard in several decades of hiking… a gallUUp sound, twice in secession and and then quiet. Off in the distance I could hear another raven cawing and circle away. What did this very strange sound mean? Was the raven bored? Hungry? Angry? I did not know. But now was a good time as any to draw a card. I pulled out the Robin Wood Tarot and drew a single card, as I often do. What was the node around which everything was circling? What was the center of gravity? I got the Queen of Swords.
This card was obvious to me. I’m still reeling from my last relationship. Just when I think that I’m free, over it, and moving on (fucking sunshine and rainbows), BAM… a new surprise. To quote one blogger on this card;
“This woman can be spiteful, mean, and verbally abusive if she is crossed. Her preferred tactic would probably be more an icy silence that speaks more than words ever could. She is not above telling tales about one who has betrayed her, so by far she’s not always someone you can trust”.
Damn it. I wanted to deny it, but I couldn’t. I was still stuck. I was finding it very hard to connect with people authentically, or a host of other things. Earlier I was reading something on forgiveness and my past relationship came to mind, emotions of bitterness and anger still smoldering. How in the fuck was I supposed to just drop this shit? Intellectually I knew it, but emotionally I was stuck and I had no guides.
I looked up at the raven high above me (hidden from view in the trees) and asked that its report to Odin of me be favorable. I knew what this meant, that I had to just keep going. I knew that important work was happening at a deeper level, I was planting the seeds (again), and that one couldn’t rush growth. I remembered the reading I did earlier on The Hanged Man in that he was terrified, baffled, confused, disoriented, but that upon accepting his fate he discovered the gift. Nichols writes of guarding against hubris. I also remembered Odin’s sacrifice of himself to himself, hanging on Yggdrasil for nine days before learning the runes. Still, I felt impatient. It had been months since the breakup. The past 12 months were all a wash, not only in relationship but in other areas as well. Rough year. I drew another card, this time from The Wildwood Tarot, asking what to keep in mind as I move forward.
A woman struggles through the wind and snow, clutching her fur hood tightly with one hand and her lantern and walking staff in the other. She presses forward through the howling wind and the fallen arrows that lie broken and embedded in the ground.
But it’s not all hopeless – just as the woman clutches her useful walking staff and lantern, we too have the tools to power on through our daily struggle and free ourselves from the mire!
There’s that word again, hope. I’ve been wavering back and forth between this hope for tomorrow (imagining all manner of great days, close relations, etc…) and acceptance of the way things are (alone, time to study, freedom). But is it an either/or? Can these both be two sides of the same coin? By accepting the current state, isn’t a better tomorrow more likely? By reframing the pushing of the rock as something else than punishment, isn’t Sisyphus acquiring the state of liberation that is denied him hope for? By the act of hoping do we kill hope? Recalling Huginn and Muninn and my notion that perhaps Muninn was nostalgia, I recall Odysseus’ journey home and Sirens. Jonathan Shay points out that the song the sirens sang was nostalgic tales of the Trojan War. I’ve come across many veterans, stuck in their reintegration, unable to join life after war, who relive their stories and identities of war. Not in the Hollywood fashion of nightmares, though those do exist but to a lesser extent than popular imagination, but in the retelling of war stories. They cannot move past who they were. They ONLY read veteran blogs, watch military shows, and so on. They get stuck and life leaves them. How did this relate to me now? For all the bitterness that I felt, there were glimpses of happiness in the past relationship. I was happy, in the beginning. This is why I had to delete almost every picture and video I took of her, too many good memories and it was easy to lose myself in them. They were a siren call to drowning.
But wasn’t I still swimming? How the fuck do I get out of this water? Recall what Jung wrote about all this, to not think of it as necessarily pathological. This was a needed thing, a needed paralysis. Perhaps my inability to connect with people was allowing me time to fully get over the past, but also, importantly to rediscover my gifts. Perhaps I would, someday, be able to fully love and be loved again. But not yet. Right now I am frozen. Though it is the end of summer around me, I am in winter.
Just be here now.